Labour History and the “Neoliberal Era”: Context and Conceptualisation
This study examines the concept of neoliberalism with specific reference to labour history, focusing on the “neoliberal era” of the past four decades. During this period, the term “neoliberalism” has increasingly permeated not only academic research but also political debates and everyday discussions. This proliferation, though, has often been accompanied by growing confusion and inconsistency regarding the meaning and application of the term. To address this problem, a single question is posed here: how might neoliberalism be reconceptualised more coherently and consistently with respect to labour history and the “neoliberal era”? Aotearoa-New Zealand’s Employment Contracts Act 1991 (ECA), the most dramatic historical example of neoliberal employment relations legislation in the predominantly Anglophone nations, provides the initial example from which to address this question. Location of the ECA towards the libertarian end of a libertarian-authoritarian legislative spectrum underpins an examination of the methodological value of neoliberalism with respect to labour history. Citing the distant, profoundly authoritarian example of the 1791 Loi Le Chapelier, the term “reliberalisation” is introduced to illustrate the historical continuity from the earliest manifestations of “free” wage labour to the present “neoliberal era.”
“Selling Their Jobs?” Thatcherism, Voluntary Redundancy and Worker Resocialisation
Greig Taylor and Matthew McDonald
The election of Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1979 is widely regarded as a watershed in British history, credited with transforming the country’s socio-economic traditions, as well as helping to inspire a global turn towards neoliberal political economy. Thatcher’s project sought not only to promote free market economics, but also propel its accompanying underpinning ideological tenets, such as individualism, competition, enterprise, and consumerism, to primacy in societal discourse. The subjugation of trade union influence was also a fundamental component of the emerging program, and the prevailing narrative is that this was achieved through macroeconomic and legislative reform. However, often underplayed is how voluntary severance schemes were used to undermine notions of collectivism, forcing workers to reassess preconceptions regarding the nature of employment and unionism. This article seeks to reposition voluntary redundancy as a key element of the raft of measures which changed the face of the British society.
Union Industrial Responses to Escalation in Live Cattle Export in Brisbane, 1978
Live animal export is now a subject of major concern and controversy over the issue of the treatment of animals and the question of animal rights; however, this was not always the case. On 17 October 1978, in an attempt to thwart expansion of the live cattle export trade by Elders Smith Goldsborough Mort (Elders), the Australasian Meat Industry Employees’ Union (AMIEU) picketed Hamilton Wharf in Brisbane in an attempt to limit live cattle export to protect meatworkers’ jobs. The picket was broken and deteriorated into violence between meatworkers and police resulting in 45 arrests. Police had been deployed to the wharf as an instrument of the Queensland State Government, a finding made clear in the Fitzgerald Inquiry Report. Far from today’s concerns about animal welfare and rights, this paper argues that the picket formed part of a traditional industrial strategy by the Union that was motivated by its obligation to protect members’ jobs. The article shows that it was also an economic issue for Queensland graziers and pastoralists and subsequently a political issue in Queensland State and Federal Parliaments.
Obstacle Course: Women’s Entry into Skilled Positions in the Newcastle Steel Industry, 1980–2000
Jude Conway, Nancy Cushing and Josephine May
Sex-segregated workforces were common in Australia in the twentieth century and male dominance of the massive steel industry in Newcastle, New South Wales (NSW), was especially pronounced. Although there was temporary employment of women in heavy industry during World War II, no permanent change occurred in Newcastle until the end of the 1970s, when local feminist aims for equality in the workforce were potentiated by a youth riot which revealed the sheer extent of female unemployment. Drawing on campaign literature, reports from the 1970s through to the 1990s, oral history interviews and conversations, this article outlines the obstacles faced, and overcome, by the young women who grasped new training opportunities from the early 1980s. By the mid-1990s, the operations superintendents of both the steelmaking mill and the blast furnace at the BHP Newcastle steelworks were women. A solid groundwork of feminist activism, accompanied by supportive government policies at all levels, led to some women finding a place for themselves in the skilled workforce of Newcastle’s heavy industrial sector.
Historical Developments in the Gender Pay Gap in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Longitudinal Employment Relations Critique
Jane Parker and Noelle Donnelly
The road to gender pay equity in Aotearoa New Zealand has been long and circuitous. Progress over the past 70 years with campaigns, legal cases and regulatory changes have ebbed and flowed. New Zealand’s gender pay gap at 9.5 per cent is comparatively small, reflecting significant gains in gender pay parity in the public sector following the introduction of a series of equity initiatives. Yet gender pay parity remains elusive for many. Analyses of pay equity have tended to use economic, feminist, social history or equality approaches to frame their focus, with the employment relations context rarely referenced, despite its political, policy and practical significance. Adopting an integrated political economy model, this article examines historical developments in gender pay equity, and argues for the integration of formal equality regulation, workplace initiatives and supporting campaigns to yield substantive change and sustained progress.
“Ain’t I a Bastard, Well I Received My Training in Aussie”: The Life of Frank Maybank, an Australian Trade Unionist in Central Africa
This article examines the working life of Frank Maybank (1901–94), a self-described Australian trade unionist on the Central African Copperbelt. Maybank was in many ways a worker of the world, he lived and worked in several countries and did all manner of jobs. The job he held the longest was General Secretary of the whites-only mineworkers’ union on the Copperbelt, where his militancy was closely informed by his experiences in, and contacts with, the Australian labour movement. This article uses Maybank’s biography both to show the transnational connections that existed and to argue that the relative weakness of those connections allowed information about different places to be misrepresented. What this article terms “strategic misunderstandings” allowed distant events and movements to be misrepresented to suit domestic audiences and concerns in Australia and on the Copperbelt. In addition, this paper reflects on how the practice of writing transnational history and how the uneven nature of digitised sources may shape the development of this sub-field.
“Pony Up!” Managing Destitution among Grooms from Australia in British India
This article examines the history of Australian horse-grooms who travelled to India, but often ended up destitute, at least for brief periods, before travelling on or settling in India. This case study of destitute Australian horse-grooms in British India provides a lens to explore intercolonial politics within the British Empire, particularly the complex socio-political dynamics of intercolonial labour migration during the later nineteenth century. In so doing, the different ways class and race intersected in Australia and India, and the conflicts between colonial governments that stemmed from these differences, are revealed. Vagrant European horse-grooms were regarded as both a problem and in need of assistance in India, while in Australia they were simply regarded as the undeserving poor.
Sweated Labour among Clothing Outworkers at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century
Christina Cregan and Carol Kulik
This study examines whether sweating existed in clothing outwork in Australia at the turn of the twenty-first century. A history from below investigation is conducted of the working lives of immigrant outworkers, interviewed in their own language in their own homes. Content and textual analyses of their narratives show that outwork was sweated labour. Individuals worked intensively for long hours, sometimes through the night, and often helped by family members. They worked so hard because piece rates were very low, work was irregular, and they could gain no other job. However, individuals disliked the job the least when they could pay the bills by working themselves to exhaustion. The results contribute to debates by showing that outwork was not undertaken for reasons of entrepreneurship, flexible working hours, or “pin money.” Outworkers carried out large volumes of repetitive sewing tasks to meet tight deadlines so they could make a basic living.